On The Case: Moffat County Child Welfare Caseworker Finds Community in Rural Colorado
December 6, 2021
Working in healthcare administration for Vanderbilt Health in Nashville, Tenn., Leah Shields had many opportunities to interact with families but she often wondered what happened to some of those families once they left the hospital. She realized she wanted closure by knowing that the families were okay. After 20 years in healthcare, Leah began looking for something new – both in work and life.
While Leah loved the hustle and bustle of an ever-growing Nashville, she now longed for something more like her hometown of Clarksville, Tenn. In May, she completed her Bachelor of Social Work degree and set out to plant roots in a new town. When a job posting came up in Meeker for a caseworker, she Googled images of the town and fell in love with the main street, its 4-way stop and charming, historic courthouse. Leah was offered the position and moved to Colorado shortly thereafter with her wife. Leah’s goal as a caseworker is to promote social justice and link the families she serves to resources they need to thrive.
“In smaller communities, there can be a lack of resources. Families may need to travel to access services or support, or they may be unaware of the options available to them,” said Leah. “My focus has been on helping families gain access to more services by meeting with community partners as well as caseworkers from other counties to understand everything that is available and determine how to share resources.”
Rio Blanco County and neighboring Moffat County are both rural counties with only 6,000 and 13,000 people, respectively, living across a vast area of land. This can be isolating for some families, which only drives Leah to work harder to connect them to resources. Sometimes, she is a family’s primary link to help. While she didn’t initially plan on going into child welfare, Leah realized that helping families grow and witnessing positive outcomes was part of what was missing in her previous career. Plus, the team in Rio Blanco and Moffat counties that supports families care for each other, too.
“Even though we may work separately due to the size of our county, our team is really authentic and always happy to help each other out,” said Leah. “There is just something about living and working in a smaller community that brings out the best in people.”
This post is part of the CO4Kids On The Case blog series that shares insights from Colorado child welfare caseworkers about the important work they do and why they chose a career in social work. Human services for Moffat and Rio Blanco counties are currently overseen by a dual-county director. While Leah currently works in Moffat County, she also has close ties to Rio Blanco County.